tractor Multi-trailer tractors commercialising fully-electric drive-trains

How are multi trailer tractors and trucks putting ports in the driving seat? John Bensalhia looks at some of the more notable developments in this sector

Findings from a recent Transparency Market Research report backs up the continuing demand for multi trailer tractors. The 'Global Trailer Terminal Tractor Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2019–2027' report makes for interesting reading with regards to the current and future status of this sector.

One of the main headlines of the report is a projected figure of more than $650 million attributable to the global trailer terminal tractor market by 2027. In fact, there is an expansion rate during the 2019 to 2027 period that is forecast to be above 3% per annum, with continued orders from specific regions, such as North America which has an expected growth rate of more than 2% per annum between the specified time-frame.

Another area is ability to constantly innovate the equipment by the major manufacturers, such as Kalmar, Mol CY and Terberg, while the development of the electric trailer terminal tractor is also crucially important because it is a trend that is firmly in line with the burgeoning growth in alternative solutions over traditional fuels.

The Transparency Market Research report highlights two important advantages of electric trailer terminal tractors, low emission levels and easy maintenance (due to fewer moving parts). As a result, not only is the electric trailer tractor expected to see continuing demand growth in the 2019 to 2027 period, it is also expected to further ensure interest in this type of product increases.

A notable case in point is Kalmar's recent fully electric version of the Kalmar Ottawa T2 terminal tractor. Utilising modern lithium-ion battery technology and a fully electric power train, this electric terminal tractor is a vehicle that is proven to be easy and cheap to maintain – while of course, producing zero emissions.

For periods in between use, the machine can be charged by an on-board inverter unit, plus the tractor driver can tell when the battery needs to be charged, thanks to a battery monitoring system that shows the exact status of the battery charge.

Gina Lopez, Kalmar's Vice President, Terminal Tractors, offered further insight. “With the regulations relating to vehicle emissions becoming increasingly strict, more and more businesses are seeking alternatives to diesel-powered container and trailer-handling equipment,” she confirmed.

The most notable technological innovations and developments of multi trailer tractors have, according to Ms Lopez, been: “The commercialisation of the fully electric drive-trains, demonstrations of advanced charging technologies like DC fast-charge and inductive charging and demonstrations of automated tractors.”

Terberg multi trailer tractor engines also carefully consider impact on the environment, with the current implementation of the Stage V engine range, as Frank Oerlemans, Terberg's Export Manager, confirms. “As we build our multi trailer tractors (based on our normal range of tractors), they always profit immediately from the continuous improvement in our product range. At this moment we are implementing the Stage V range of engines, which we believe is the best solution for our environment.”

In more detail, Terberg uses the Buiscar heavy duty draw bar coupling to connect the trailers with an automatic connection for the brake system and the electrics. The driver can stay in the cabin when he connects to a MTS train.

“This connection has been renewed recently,” explains Mr Oerlemans. “The renewal can be found in the way the coupling is mounted to the tractor chassis. This allows for a better alignment with the trailer drawbar for a problem-free connection and disconnection of the trailers at all times. Furthermore, the electric part is now connected to the Canbus technology in the tractors.”

The multi trailer tractor offers a wide choice of benefits for ports. The Transparency Market Research report notes that trailer terminal tractors have a number of advantages, including good visibility, drive-line layout and manoeuvrability. With benefits like these, ports can gain considerably during daily operations of cargo transportation.

The Mol CY Multi Trailer Truck, for example, affords greater levels of efficiency. Designed to pull up to five trailers, the Mol CY Multi Trailer Truck can accommodate a maximum weight of 350 tonnes, saving port operators extra time when transporting cargo. The truck also benefits from automatic coupling, which allows for mechanical, pneumatic electrical coupling with trailer trains.

Gina Lopez of Kalmar says that the main port-related benefits of multi trailer and trailer train tractors are flexibility and cost savings, especially “in use of the equipment and cost of a tractor relative to more expensive Over-the-Road vehicles and mobile cranes.”

Frank Oerlemans explains that the more trailers there are connected to the tractor, the more containers one driver can transport – meaning that the same job can be achieved but with less people. As well as this, Mr Oerlemans observes that MTS trains become more interesting when the distances are longer.

“There is always an optimum in the amount of TEUs to be handled per location. There are MTS trains from four up to 10 TEU available. In the Rail Service Centre in Rotterdam, they have used these MTS trains with four trailers (8 TEU) since 1993. They uncouple the trailers under the crane, so the driver does not have to wait for his MTS train to be loaded. This results in the best efficiency of the tractors and the drivers.”

With respect to safety benefits, multi trailer and trailer train tractors mean that there is no need for interaction with cranes. “The main benefit is that inland transportation modes do not need to interface with the cranes which keeps non-port operated equipment outside of the quay,” says Gina Lopez.

Frank Oerlemans adds that the main safety benefits of today's multi trailer tractors are that there are a lot less people then working in the terminal. “With less people, the risks of accidents or injuries are also smaller. Driving with an MTS train does not allow for fast accelerations, thus making the job safer.

"This means that the job is always done with more care, especially because rushing and fast cornering is not possible. The steering system of our tractors is automatically limited when an MTS train is connected.

"The driver cannot steer by mistake into a corner that's too tight. All trailers have brakes, so emergency stops do not require more distance, compared to a normal short tractor trailer combination.”

With the Transparency Market Research report forecasting a positive future for the trailer tractor, it is unsurprising that these units continue to be popular. Electrical power and low-emission solutions, along with high pulling weight capabilities and extra comfort and space for the driver, all contribute to continuing popularity. The potential for further development such as automation (see Box: Automatic Responses) affords further interest, as Gina Lopez concludes. “Commercialisation of advanced charging technologies and automation are very clearly coming in our industry in the near future.”

“For sure, in the case of Terberg, ports will keep on benefiting from the latest developments in the normal tractor range,” adds Frank Oerlemans. “Furthermore, it is likely that automated solutions will also find their way to the MTS tractors.”

Automatic responses

Interest in automated trailer vehicles is growing. Several ports around the world have trialled driver-less trucks and tractors. For example, Chinese robotics company, TuSimple, is planning to have 20 self-driving vehicles in operation at the Chinese Port of Caofeidian, home to a 300,000 TEU container terminal.

TuSimple is developing self-driving software and equipment which can be used with other manufacturers' trailer tractors and trucks, with the system capable of managing most driving tasks both independently and on a controlled-access freeway.

Meanwhile, Volvo's autonomous vehicle, a fully electric tractor unit called 'Vera', has been used to transport cargo from the DFDS logistics centre to the APM Terminals’ facility
at the Port of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The ‘Vera’ vehicle operates via a central control centre, with links to a Cloud interface that can monitor important aspects of location, battery power levels and load content. The vehicle is designed to be compatible with other trailers. However, the ‘Vera’ unit is only capable of driving at a speed of around 25 mph, and has been designated to handle more repetitive tasks over a shorter distance.

Clearly, automation continues to help drive the trailer vehicle sector forward. Driver-less vehicles can offer advantages for ports, such as higher safety levels, convenience and flexibility and with online access to the Cloud, a port’s operational team can monitor the vehicle's progress from a remote, safe, location.


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